Like so many people, I have a complex relationship with my mom. At times, we’ve been as close as a mother and daughter can possibly be. During moments of deep conflict, however, I’ve needed to keep a painful distance. She has been my greatest cheerleader and also my biggest critic. She has loved me fiercely, impossibly, and imperfectly.
Today is my mom’s birthday, and coupled with Mother’s Day, it has been a time of sincere reflection. How do I find a way to forgive my mom and celebrate her when there is so much of our journey that has challenged me?
In just eight words, Drew Barrymore has helped me feel less alone in my journey.
Yesterday, the actress posted a candid Instagram photo with her mom — mid-smiles. Underneath the image, she simply writes, “Proud. Me and my mom. On Mother’s Day!”
Barrymore’s brief and heartfelt statement was enough for me to feel the waterworks coming. I’ve already known for a while about her public and ongoing struggle to keep her mother Jade in her life. As both a mom and daughter myself, my heart has gone out to her for continuing to share her vulnerable experience with the world. Even during frank conversations about the subject, Barrymore has remained respectful and appreciative for the life she knows exists, for better or worse, because of her mom.
One such conversation was a 2014 Marie Claire interview. Barrymore opened up about becoming a parent herself, and how that has helped her sympathize with her mom’s chaotic raising of her. “I’ve always been empathetic toward my mom, and I was even more so when I had a kid and we had a really amazing conversation about it,” she says.
But for Barrymore, coming to an understanding about her mother has not altered the boundaries she’s needed to make for herself.
“It hasn’t enabled me to lessen the distance,” she says. “It’s the hardest subject in my life. I’ve never just been angry with her. I’ve always felt guilt and empathy and utter sensitivity. But we can’t really be in each other’s lives at this point.”
Barrymore’s estranged relationship with her mom is far from my own. I cannot even begin to imagine a childhood that included rehab for drug and alcohol use and a suicide attempt as a teen. And don’t even get me started on how much courage she must have needed to emancipate herself from her parents at the tender age of 15. Of this time, Barrymore tells Marie Claire, “When I was a kid, everything was so unplanned, my parents were so erratic … and my world was so inconsistent.”
While I didn’t experience Barrymore’s personal childhood traumas, I do know what it feels like to have encountered chaos as a kid and the internal anxiety it provoked at a very young age. I know what it feels like to witness parental discord so unbearable I didn’t want to exist for a while. And I definitely know the heartache of a mother-daughter relationship that is rife with boundaries.
But also, like Barrymore, I know that I would not be where I am today, or more importantly, who I am today, without my mom. It’s taken years for me to realize the beauty of this fragile truth. My mother sacrificed so much of her own life to raise me, and while the course was tremendously rocky at times, it was also filled with a collection of meaningful, loving, and connected moments.
This doesn’t mean that on Mother’s Day (and every other day), I am required to ignore the distressing childhood memories I’m still working through to this day. It does mean that I can remember to love my mom as I love my own daughter — with an earnest compassion, radical acceptance, and an endless supply of forgiveness.
Thank you, Drew Barrymore, for inspiring me to continue loving my own mom as authentically and honestly as you have loved your own.